can't sit still

If they’re squirming, they’re learning

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From kindergarten to second grade, Budlong’s teachers required him to read aloud to us for 20-30 minutes each night.  Here’s what a typical reading session sounded like in our house:

Stop bending the pages! Set the book down so I can see what you’re reading.

Put your toy down and focus on the book.

Get your hands out of your mouth.

Stop tapping the pencil while you read. It’s distracting.

Do you have to pee? No? Then stop writhing in that chair!

Are you sick? No? Then sit up straight!

You can get a drink of water when you’re done.

Can you just not. touch. anything. within 5 feet of us???

For the love of god, SIT STILL AND READ!!!

Kids can’t sit still, but should they have to?

Do you have squirmy bookworms, too?  Please humor me and tell me you’ve been there. I was pretty sure I had every right to lose my patience over this until I read Michael Sullivan’s book Raising Boy Readers. And then I realized that my gender has a lot to do with what I think reading should look like. Citing brain research, Sullivan explains that the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that controls communication between both hemispheres, is less developed in a male than in a female. Consequently, girls have an advantage when it comes to language because it’s a task that requires both halves of the brain. To overcome this disadvantage, boys seek out stimuli to “wake up the brain” to prepare it for reading. These stimuli can be in the form of sound, color, motion, or physical activity. Translation? Budlong’s constant fidgeting and wiggling is not an attempt to avoid reading but an attempt to get better at it. It’s not a distraction to him; it’s a learning strategy.

Shortly after this epiphany, I came across an NEA article that corroborates this idea:

“A 2008 study found that children actually need to move to focus during a complicated mental task. The children in the study—especially those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—fidgeted more when a task required them to store and process information rather than just hold it. This is why students are often restless while doing math or reading, but not while watching a movie, explained Dr. Mark Rapport, the supervisor of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Not only do boys need to move during a learning activity such as reading or math, they can also benefit from increased physical activity throughout their day. An article recently published in Time magazine reports the results of a 2016 Finnish study:

“Boys whose days were more sedentary when they were in first grade (a crucial year for learning to read) made fewer gains in reading in second and third grade. They also did worse at math for that year.”  

BTW, Budlong just cited this article in his third-grade persuasive paper about needing more gym time!

Get them moving!

If you think your child could benefit from auditory or physical stimuli while reading, consider these ideas the next time you need to rally for reading homework. He could read while

  • standing or pacing
  • listening to music
  • holding a fidget toy (squish ball, soft piece of fabric)
  • riding a stationary bike

Acting out a book after reading can also improve comprehension. What other ideas do you have for incorporating movement into your child’s reading/learning? I’d love to hear about them!

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Jazz: A Black History Booklist for Preschool Cats

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A few years ago, my good friends and fellow educators entrusted me to play preschool with their son Ben, who is the same age as Ashman. Pretty naive of me to think teaching high school for ten years could prepare me for teaching three-year-olds, right? Ben and Ashman turned out to be the wriggliest force I had ever reckoned with! Nevertheless, I relished the challenge of finding topics and activities that held their interest. Jazz, a topic I selected in honor of Black History Month, turned out to have immense toddler appeal. Ben and Ashman loved learning about the instruments, rhythms and rhymes of this music born in New Orleans. I loved introducing them to notable Black musicians who made this style part of our American history. Here is a list of books we used to learn about jazz. Whenever possible, I’ve tried to explain the sensory activities we paired with the book…because if there’s one thing Ben and Ashman taught me, it’s that kids gotta move! Continue reading

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Check It Out: a Valentine’s Day book for boys (and other pragmatists)

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“Check It Out” is a new series in which I recommend gems we’ve discovered by chance at our public library. Since it’s February, I wanted to share this Valentine’s Day book:

The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever by Brenda A. Ferber

Yuckiest Valentine book cover

That moment Valentine ’s Day becomes less about candy and more about declaring your love for a classmate can be, well… AWKWARD!!! (to use Ashman’s new favorite word). Romantic, risky, gross, terrifying, this book understands that immature love is complicated.

Join Leon as he chases his mortified Valentine card through town only to run smack into his crush, Zoey Maloney. What will she say? And will his Valentine card cooperate?

Valentine's Day Book

This is my favorite page. I love the teenagers’ reactions!

This book has been a February favorite in our house for the last three years. The boys love the comic book layout and vibrant full-page drawings by illustrator Tedd Arnold (Fly Guy; Parts). But I’m pretty sure it’s the Valentine card’s refrain that keeps Budlong and Ashman coming back:

Love is yucky. Stinky too. It will turn your brain to goo!

Sweeten your little reader’s V-Day with a trip to your local library to check it out!

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Tried and True: Nonfiction Series for Beginning Readers

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My boys LOVE nonfiction. When I lose Ashman in the library, I know to look first in one of three sections: trucks, police, or Titanic.

Ashman checks out police books in the nonfiction section

I’ll admit it took me a while to get excited about reading nonfiction with them. I’m a fiction girl myself. I don’t mind biographies or other narrative nonfiction that reads like a story, but reading something that looks like a science textbook is pretty painful for me. Most boys, when given the choice, will choose informational books over fiction. For many, it’s precisely this textbooky layout that contributes to the genre’s appeal. With short bursts of focus, readers can gain a ton of information from nonfiction text features such as photos, diagrams, charts, captions, labels, and headings. Even if the genre is not your child’s first choice, it’s a great idea to introduce nonfiction into his/her reading life. Reading books with these features prepares kids to understand the structures of academic text they’ll see in school.

Another advantage to this preference for nonfiction? My role as book matchmaker is easy peasy. Oh, you’re into tornadoes this week? You’d like to know more about football? You want to see pictures of the inside of an ambulance? There’s a book for that! Below is a list of our favorite nonfiction series and collections.  Continue reading

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Relax. 7 Signs Your Kindergartner Will Learn to Read and Write

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I am not what you’d call a laid-back mother. Being a firstborn, Budlong has reaped both the benefits and the drawbacks of my control-freakishness. I wanted to do everything “right”—I breastfed for nine months; I made my own baby food; we used cloth diapers; we kept him away from TV for almost two years. Mediocrity was not an option; I wanted him to be exceptional. That included learning to read at an early age. I was pretty confident that we were on the right track.

We surrounded him with print…

surround your child with print

…encouraged his book-handling skills…

book handling skills

…read aloud to him every day…

reading aloud to him

And then one day I took him in for kindergarten pre-assessments. His teacher brought him back to me and reported, “He knows 5 sight words.” And I had a quiet panic attack. What’s a sight word?  How many should he know by now? How many do the other kids know? The rest of kindergarten was an angry blur, me pushing Budlong to read by himself and him resisting because he was not ready to read.

With Ashman’s literacy development, I’ve decided to take a different approach.  There’s no doubt he will learn to read.  But I want him to enjoy the process. In his book Raising Boy Readers, Michael Sullivan says, “The best thing any parent can do to help a boy become a reader is relax.” I think as parents we’re so focused on that magical moment when our children begin to read or write that we discount the steps needed to get there and stay there. Sometimes we get frustrated and even see them as acts of cheating or regression. On the contrary, the following seven habits should be celebrated just as much as the acts of reading and writing themselves: Continue reading

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Check It Out: Chapter Book Series by Steve Brezenoff

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Budlong is currently on a mystery fiction kick thanks to his teacher’s awesome third grade reading unit. During winter break, we went to the public library to stock up. While Budlong went in search of Zombie Zone, the last book in Ron Roy’s series A to Z Mysteries, I went on a desperate hunt to find his next favorite series. Gotta stay one step ahead! That’s when I discovered author Steve Brezenoff and three of his series that were guaranteed to meet Budlong’s (unspoken) criteria:

  • Pictures (Like many boys his age, Budlong judges a book worthy of his time by whether it has pictures. The full-page, color illustrations in these books score huge points with him),
  • Just right reading level (Grade 2-3)
  • Adventurous, fast paced plots with relatable (but slightly older) characters

Series are particularly useful in creating positive reading experiences at this age. A story’s exposition (that part of the book that introduces the characters, the setting and the conflict) is often the most challenging to get through but also the most essential to understand. When readers already know the background information, they are motivated to read more books in the same series.

It’s only been a week and a half since my discovery and Budlong has read six books from these series. If you are wondering what your grade school reader should read next, check these out!

Museum Mysteries

The Capitol City Sleuths are four friends with exceptional access to the city’s museums, thanks to their parents who work there. They solve crime and learn a little culture along the way. Currently, there are eight titles in this series.

Museum Mysteries Series by Steve Brezenoff

Field Trip Mysteries

Help four best friends in Mr. Spade’s sixth-grade class solve crimes on their field trips before they get back on the bus to school. With field trip destinations that range from national parks to big cities to bowling alleys and amusement parks, your reader is sure to find a topic that interests him. This series contains at least 20 titles and is now branching into another series called “You Choose Stories.” They feature the same characters but allow the reader to choose from multiple possible endings.

Field Trip Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff

Return to Titanic

Tucker and Maya discover a collection of special Titanic artifacts that have the power to transport them back in time to the ship’s maiden (and final) voyage. After meeting a new friend traveling aboard, they decide to race against time and fate to save him. This series has the added benefit of also appealing to Ashman. If you know Ashman personally, you know he is our resident Titanic historian. He builds Lego replicas, draws diagrams and subjects random strangers to Titanic trivia quizzes. The three of us started this series as a read aloud, but Budlong went rogue and is just finishing the last book today!

Return to Titanic Series by Steve Brezenoff

 

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Book Giving Day 12: Book Pairings

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Oh my goodness, we made it!  It’s day 12 of the “12 Days of Book Giving”!

Book Giving Idea #12

Reading and cooking go together like red wine and chocolate, coffee and donuts, tea and shortbread, milk and cookies. I could go on, but what I mean is kids get exposure to so much good food while reading, and so much good reading while cooking. This holiday season, pair a children’s book with homemade food or a cooking experience to maximize this symbiotic relationship. Here are some possibilities to get you thinking:

The Ninjabread Man

Book Pairing: Ninjabread Man and cookie cutters

Saint Nicholas brought my ninjas this book with some matching cookie cutters.  After reading the story, Budlong and Ashman are eagerly anticipating our cookie making, baking, frosting, and eating experiences!

Who Made This Cake?

Who Made This Cake? paired with cake mix

In this picture book by Chihiro Nakagawa and Junji Koyose, miniature construction vehicles and their operators work to make a life-size birthday cake for a mother. If you have a young child who’s crazy about construction vehicles, pair this book with a box of cake mix. It’s sure to be an unforgettable baking and imagination building experience!

Food in Literature Blog

Food in Literature is an amazing blog whose founder, Bryton Taylor, creates recipes inspired by novels and children’s literature.  In addition to the recipes, you’ll find gorgeous, mouthwatering photos and how-to videos. I am most intrigued by…

Book pairing: Lion Witch and Wardrobe with Turkish Delight

Book Pairing: HP and treacle tart

Book pairing: BFG and frobscottle

Get the book, print off the recipe, shop for the ingredients, and you’ve got yourself an amazing gift basket to give to an older child!

Kids Cook with Books from What’s Cooking with Kids

This is a gift that has potential to last the whole year. You can sign yourself or a child up for this book club, and each month you’ll receive a recipe that complements a children’s book geared toward kids ages 2-8. The 2017 list of books is already posted. Check it out and track down the first few books!

Thank you so much for following this series.  I hope you have been inspired to give a child a unique book in a creative way. Whatever your cause for celebration this season, Budlong, Ashman, my husband and I would like to wish you peace, joy, and tons of time for reading!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
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Day 11: A Blank Book

Book Giving Day 11: A Blank Book

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We are nearing the end of the “12 Days of Book Giving,” my friends, but don’t despair. You still get two more days of Book Giving inspiration!

Book Giving Idea #11

“If you can’t find the book you want to read, then go write it.”

This is what fabulous young adult author Kwame Alexander tells students during his Page-to-Stage writing workshops.  I recently read The Crossover, his novel written in verse about a seventh grade basketball star. By deftly combining sports and poetry, he has written a book many boy readers will absolutely want to read. I am counting down the years till I get to enjoy it again with Budlong and Ashman!

Similarly, Keith Negley, another of my new favorite children’s authors, explained in an interview,

“ I always liked the idea of making picture books for children, but it wasn’t until I became a parent and started reading a ton of picture books to my son did I realize there was a lack of the kind of books we enjoyed. Honestly the books I’ve been working on were born out of necessity because I wanted to read them and no one else had made them yet.”

Keith Negley's Tough GuysKeith Negley's My Dad Used to Be So Cool

As it did for these authors, being a reader can naturally lead kids to being a writer. When the boys got into the I Survived! series by Lauren Tarshis, I encouraged them to start thinking of their own titles. One particularly rainy camping weekend prompted them to declare they were going to write a book called I Survived!: the Camping Trip to Bluemound. 

And much to Ashman’s disappointment, there just aren’t many books written about bucket wheel excavators. I promise. We’ve read. them. all. So I’ve tasked him with writing and illustrating his own.

If you have aspiring authors in your home, here are some tools of the trade that would make excellent gifts:

            1. felt tip pens–Ashman uses these in school as his special writing workshop pens. They are fine enough to help him work on dexterity but not as finicky as ball point pens when you hold them at a weird angle. Kindergarten teachers are geniuses.
            2. hard cover blank books–my fourth grade teacher gave me one of these, and I will  never forget it. There’s just something about a hardcover that makes you feel like an official writer. In mine I wrote a sequel to Mary Poppins. (White Blank Books with Hardcovers 6″W x 8″H (6 Books / Pack) by Ashley Productions)
            3. publish your own book kits–these are commercial kits that let kids write and illustrate their story, mail it away, and receive a professionally printed book. The whole process sounds so exciting! (you might like this one: Crayola Story By Me Hardcover Kit)

That’s all for today!  We’re going out to enjoy the snow! See you back here tomorrow for the very last day of Book Giving 2016! Don’t forget, the winner of the Snowy Day hat and book giveaway will be announced tomorrow as well.  You have until midnight tonight to enter (or re-enter)!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
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Book reincarnated

Book Giving Day 10: Book Reincarnated

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This is day 10 of the “12 Days of Book Giving“!

Book Giving Idea #10:

Remember the scene in Dead Poets’ Society when Robin Williams’s character gives his students permission to tear pages out of their textbooks? That kind of reckless irreverence can be quite exhilarating. Even children’s librarians tear up books in the name of engaging readers. It’s called the shredded book contest. Books are cherished objects in our house. The boys have learned not to step on them, throw them, or eat near them. Despite this kid-glove treatment, most books will eventually show some wear and tear, especially the ones that are well-loved. This is the type of book I’m recommending you give as a gift.  And then let your child rip it up and create something from its pages.

Before you shout blasphemer or book burner, let me clarify that this giving idea is not really about destroying books. It’s about loving a book so much you give it new life. The crafters and pinners of the world call this upcycling or repurposing books. I call it reincarnating. Whether you look at a used book store, thrift store, or your kids’ dusty bookshelves, start seeing used books with an artist’s eye. What sort of art project would revive them?

So what can you make with old books?

Silhouette Prints

For Christmas last year, Budlong received an illustrated collector’s copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My yellowed paperback version from undergrad education classes was feeling a bit inadequate.  But a printed quidditch scene on a torn-out page ensured that book lives on in Budlong’s room.

Upcycled book project

To make the quidditch scene, I collaged some free silhouette clip art using Microsoft Word—very easy and low tech.  Then I ran the book pages through my printer. Feel free to download my quidditch scene if you have a Harry Potter fan.  Or make your own.  This project works for any book! You could also have your child draw or paint a scene on book pages.

More upcycled book projects to do with kids

  • Decoupage shredded book pages onto lampshades, light switch plates, Christmas ornaments, or anything else you can think of.
  • Cut the book pages into shapes and have your child collage an image on a solid background. Frame it!
  • Hollow out a book to make a secret treasure compartment!

See you back here tomorrow for day 11!

Featured image based on "Presents" by Andrew Butitta, CC-BY-SA-2.0
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Day 9 Book Giving

Book Giving Day 9: Tickets Make Good Bookmarks

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If you’ve been following us from the beginning, you know it’s day 9 of the “12 Days of Book Giving“!!! If this is your first visit, welcome!

Budlong is spending two weeks in South Dakota with my parents this summer, which got me thinking about how I could best prepare him for the trip. The answer is books, of course.  Books about South Dakota can give him valuable background knowledge that he’ll be able to connect to his travel experiences.  Books will also focus his interests and build anticipation for his trip.

Because we’ve read Mount Rushmore: Myths, Legends, and Facts by Jessica Gunderson, Budlong now understands that the monument is on land stolen from the Sioux. He’s also excited about the prospect of seeing the secret chamber hidden behind the faces and going to visit the still unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial.  Next up we’ll read Flat Stanley: The Mount Rushmore Calamity and Four Famous Faces.

This trip is not a surprise to him, but imagine how awesome it would be if we had announced it by giving him one of the above books.  Even more awesome and more tangible if we had tucked an Every Kid in a Park Pass into the book as a surprise bookmark!  And that’s how I came up with your book giving idea for the day!

Book Giving Idea #9: Tickets Make Great Bookmarks!

Step 1: Brainstorm experiences you can offer your child.

Step 2: Purchase passes, tickets, or gift cards good for this experience

Step 3: Hide the tickets inside a book about this experience and wrap it up!

Need some ideas? Continue reading

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